Experiment time! Right now, I want you to take your right hand, extend your pointer finger, and bring it towards your nostrils.
Your finger should be really close to the nostril holes but not touching. Take a slow inhale through your nose, now here comes the magic, and slow exhale out of your nostrils. Keep repeating that process, exhaling slowly onto your finger. I want you to slowly move your finger side to side a few times and notice which nostril *actually* has air coming out of it.
Our entire life, air is only ever coming out of ONE nostril at a time, and it switches every few hours, all on its own. Nostrils split the workload in a process of alternating congestion and decongestion in a process called the Nasal Cycle.
Every few hours your Automatic Nervous System, which is responsible for your heart rate, digestion, and other bodily functions you have no control over, switches up the nostril workload. This is done by swelling and deflating erectile tissues that live in the nose. (Yes, the same tissue that is in your reproductive system!) This system is running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for the entirety of your life!
So why does this happen? In short, it is believed to maintain optimal moisture in the nasal passages ensuring neither nostril becomes too dry.
So, with that new information, lets move onto the relationship between our nostrils and yoga. You may have heard of or even practiced Alternate Nostril Breathing. This practice is believed to balance the subtle energy of the body. Traditional yogic texts refer to the masculine and feminine characteristics of the nostrils. Breathing through the left nostril is said to calm the body (feminine energy) whereas breathing through the right nostril is said to energise the body (masculine energy). In Alternate Nostril Breathing we activate both energetic sides and work to achieve balance between the two. (Everyone has both masculine and feminine energy.)
What is more, is that scientific research supports the theory behind this breathing practice. Studies have proven that breathing through the left nostril increases activity on the right side of the brain which is responsible for processing our emotions and influencing our creativity. Whereas breathing through the right nostril increases activity on the left side of the brain which is responsible for logic and language.
By stimulating both sides, we can gain energetic balance in the body.
If you are interested in practicing Alternate Nostril Breathing, subscribe to the Activ Life Online Studio where you will find our five-part 'Get To Know Your Breath' series.
When practicing Alternate Nostril Breathing:
aim for a smooth rhythm of slow quiet breathing;
keep focus on the air traveling deep into your lungs and out again; and
keep your spine tall and head level.
Miranda Morris is a yoga instructor for Activ Life, a leading health and wellness company based in the Cayman Islands. If you enjoyed this article you may also like: Stress less with this one mindful step and Yoga to relieve headaches.